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Column: Wreaths for veterans bring feeling of warmth


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A member of the Columbus chapter of the Young Marines shivered in the cold last year at Garland Brook Cemetery as he and his fellow Marines placed wreaths on the graves of veterans at Garland Brook Cemetery as part of the Wreaths Across America project.  / Submitted photo
A member of the Columbus chapter of the Young Marines shivered in the cold last year at Garland Brook Cemetery as he and his fellow Marines placed wreaths on the graves of veterans at Garland Brook Cemetery as part of the Wreaths Across America project. / Submitted photo


I’m not sure how you measure warmth. At least not the kind that’s calculated in degrees of Celsius or Fahrenheit.

The warmth I have difficulty in defining is the kind one feels when coming across something that shows that there are people who care. Actually, I think I’m now able to assign a number to this feeling of warmth I just described, at least for this year: 575.

That’s the number of brightly decorated Christmas wreaths that will be placed on the graves of veterans in Bartholomew County on Saturday, to remain in place at least through the rest of this holiday season.

Most of them will be positioned in the veterans sections of Garland Brook Cemetery by the Sons of the American Legion, Columbus Young Marines and other volunteers.

A few will be placed around the columns of the Memorial for Veterans on the courthouse lawn, and one will be put on a marker for Dennis Chomel in the POW-MIA Plaza across the street from the memorial. Chomel, a Marine, was the county’s only “Missing in Action” from the Vietnam War, and his remains have never been recovered.

The downtown ceremony will be at noon. The program at Garland Brook will begin about 12:30 p.m.

Make a donation

Donations to the 2014 Wreaths Across America Bartholomew County project can be mailed to Sons of the American Legion, c/o Ron Shadley, 2621 N. Boohers Court, Columbus, IN 47203.

Checks should be made out to Sons of the American Legion with a notation that the money is to go to the Wreaths Across America project.

Information: 343-8514

Event organizer Ron Shadley said that family members of veterans buried elsewhere in the county would be able to obtain, free of charge, wreaths for the graves of their loved ones either downtown or at Garland Brook.

The number of wreaths that will be available is noteworthy because this is a local project that is in only its fourth year. It started modestly in 2010 when a Hope man, Lou Broering, took note of a national project called Wreaths Across America.

The national effort had started on the East Coast several years earlier with organizers raising money to place thousands of wreaths on the graves of service personnel and veterans in national cemeteries, most notably the one at Arlington.

Lou got started late and was only able to place four wreaths around the Memorial for Veterans. The project picked up steam the following year, enough money raised for just more than 100 wreaths. Sadly Lou did not live to see them in place. He died unexpectedly that November.

His cause was picked up by Ron and the Sons of the American Legion. The project got increased notice, and the group was able to purchase 454 wreaths. A big assist came from a donation of $2,300 from the city of Columbus, which had earlier been approved by the Board of Works.

This year, the group has raised approximately $7,000, enough for the purchase of the 575 wreaths and some more leftover as seed money for next year.

Boosting this year’s total were substantial gifts from the city along with the Custer and Nugent foundations but there were also dozens of smaller gifts as well.

“We’d love to eventually have enough to put wreaths on every grave,” Ron said earlier this week. “However, there are an estimated 4,000 veterans buried in Garland Brook.”

A less ambitious but still pretty impressive goal is to have wreaths on the graves of those former service personnel buried in the two veterans sections. There are more than 1,000 graves in the sections, but a number are the final resting places of spouses.

While the 575 number does provide some kind of measure of the feelings that people in this community have for those who served, there is an even more poignant emotion that can be derived from this project.

It’s to stand in the veterans sections in the coming weeks and look out over a sea of those wreaths aligned in a military-style formation over the graves of men and women who have served.

You don’t have to measure warmth in that instance. You just have to feel it.

Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at harry@therepublic.com.

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